“Really Weird Tales”: SCTV alumni were the best thing about HBO’s short-lived 1986 anthology sketch series

By on August 10, 2016

Thirty years ago, in the fall of 1986, the HBO network aired three 30-minute episodes of a brand new anthology sketch comedy series, called “Really Weird Tales,” which featured Second City TV alumnus among the show’s cast, including the host, Joe Flaherty, who also co-created and co-wrote the series.

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Flaherty — one of the founders of Toronto’s Second City and an original series cast member — co-created and co-produced the show with Michael MacMillan and co-wrote the three episodes with his brother, comedy writer David Flaherty (one of those was also co-written by the episode’s star, Catherine O’Hara, another SCTV veteran).

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Flaherty hosts each of the three episodes in the manner of Rod Serling, Vincent Price or HBO’s ‘“Hitchhiker” anthology series, and the shows were indeed supposed to be a kind of a satire on, or parody of, “The Twilight Zone” or maybe “The Outer Limits,”, although it’s fairly obvious the writing wasn’t up to the same level, what with the writers trying to go for laughs at the same time they were telling “really weird” tales.

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In the first of these episodes, “Cursed with Charisma” — written by Joe Flaherty, David Flaherty, and John McAndrew, and directed by Dan McBrearty — we’re placed in the fictional town of Fitchville, which we’re told is “Flyswatter Capital of the World.”

At a town meeting, citizens are discussing their concerns about the sagging economy, hoping for rich foreign investors to come in and save the flyswatter manufacturing facility that provided jobs for much of the town’s population.

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In walks slick-talking silver-haired Howard Jensen (the late great John Candy) who just happens to be passing through their humble town. He explains to them that he has a solution for their problem, and tells them his surefire plan: no-money-down real estate.

“Anyone can do it!,” he cheerfully offers, evoking James Brown’s stage show as a cape is draped over his shoulders after he collapse after giving his emotional speech, which of course he tosses off and continues to ramble on.

Soon enough, thanks to his skills as a con man extraordinaire, everyone in the town is buying up each other’s property and re-selling it again, and each time a sale is made, the property values soar.

Jensen then takes a kid named Jimmy under his wing and convinces him to buy his parents house, then he buys it from Jimmy himself, after just a few hours, and he decides to split town with his handsome profit.

Meanwhile the townspeople get wise to his get-rich-quick scheme and start after him (turns out they didn’t realize they’d be paying all kinds of taxes or else they’d end up being foreclosed on). There’s a nice little twist at the end that we won’t spoil for you, but trust is, it’s “really weird.”

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A second episode, “I’ll Die Loving” — written by Joe Flaherty, David Flaherty and Catherine O’Hara, and directed by Joe Blanchard — features O’Hara as an orphaned girl who is cursed with a serious problem: everyone she falls in love with ends up exploding, her romances literally going up in flames.

Things start off bad for her when her mother explodes early in her life. Her father drops her  off at a convent where she’s raised by mean nuns (is there any other kind?), who tell her she can never love anyone, lest they go “kaboom” as well.

She ends up out on the street, fending for herself, and before too long lands a job in a complaint office in a department store. Since anyone who attracts even the slightest bit of her affection immediately explodes she has to play it cool.

A professor explains to her that because of her “projected affection blow-up syndrome,” she can only be cured if she ends up falling in love with someone repugnant, which is how she ends up on a dinner date with an ugly, lecherously annoying co-worker.

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For the third and final episode, “All’s Well That Ends Strange,” — written by Joe Flaherty and David Flaherty, and directed by Paul Lynch — Martin Short (probably best known at the time for his character Ed Grimley) plays a third-rate lounge singer named Shucky Forme (pronounced “For-may”) who, through his friendship with a pipe-smoking girlie magazine publisher, ends up being invited to a Playboy Mansion-style house party.

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At the party, he gives a performance which he thinks just might be the “big break” he’s been waiting for.

We learn it’s long been Shucky’s dream to be part of the publisher’s inner circle, and after belting out an off-key version of ”Mack the Knife,” Shucky is taken to a pool grotto by one of the publisher’s curvaceous employees, named Tippi (Olivia d’Abo), who just might be the girl of his dreams.

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She, of course, wants to be an actress, and sees herself as competition for Meryl Streep, and Shucky, who also sees himself as an actor worthy of class roles like “The Elephant Man,” falls deeply for Tippi before things end, well, really weirdly.

Alas, the series proved to be short-lived and although Flaherty had a commitment from HBO to produce three more teleplays for the series, the network decided to stop the weirdness and cancel the series.

Today it’s somewhat forgotten, which makes it the kind of show we love to remember here at Night Flight HQ.

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A VHS tape was released with all three episodes in 1987 (reversing the order that they aired on HBO), and it’s apparently quite difficult to find a copy today so if you happen to have one in your collection, you probably have fans of the show waiting for you to list it over on eBay right now.

1986 had been an eventful year for HBO. It was, after all, in April of the same year that a hacker using the name of “Captain Midnight” interrupted the network’s airing of The Falcon and the Snowman to complain about their pricing. You can read about that here.

We also have a post about another forgotten HBO series, a pro football themed sitcom (you read that right, a sitcom) starring future killer O.J. Simpson.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Larry King

    I
    was a viewer of “Really Weird Tales”, and dutifully recorded it to VHS.
    But, it was a bust. I felt that “our favorite comedians” had a period
    when they tried to do “darker”(?) material that was supposed to make us
    laugh, but just didn’t. Maybe it was the cocaine.. Example would include
    Lorne Michaels’ “The New Show” series, and the movie “Neighbors”. I’m
    sure that there are other examples… R.I.P. 70s comedy.. what
    happened??

  • Demo

    I actually have two copies of the VHS of this. I transferred it to digital and the quality is great.
    I could watch Shucky Forme’ for hours!